Dozens paint mural for Barber pool area
By Jennie Geisler / firstname.lastname@example.org
Erie Times-News - 5/14/2017
The swimming pool at Barber National Institute does something amazing: The pool floor raises from a floor of 4½ feet to the level of the deck to allow arthritic or otherwise disabled people to walk or ride waterproof wheelchairs on and off, making it accessible to absolutely anyone. This is particularly important for students at the institute, many of whom are autistic, and whose day could be ruined by a clumsy transfer into the water.
The walls around the pool, which is a little smaller than competition-sized, are less than amazing. They are, mostly, yellow and orange brick or covered in a drab brown carpet. Some cartoon characters and a few rules cheer up one side, but at one end of the pool, a featureless, 32-foot expanse of this carpet has bothered aquatics coordinator Mary M. Kaliszak for years.
"The pool staff and I have talked about this blank wall at the end of our pool area and how neat it would be to have a water theme to it," Kaliszak said.
She won't have to wait much longer.
"It's coming to fruition," she said. "It's pretty exciting."
The Employee Community Service Fund of GE recently put up the money for the creation of a mural to stretch across the entire blank wall. Over several months, a committee of representatives of the institute; artist Lee Steadman, director of Bloom Collaborative; and the service fund have worked up a design for the mural, and settled on a brilliant blue ocean scene with vibrantly colored fish, a dolphin, an island, and a child swimming with bright clouds above.
Steadman said it's designed to calm the Institute's swimmers, draw them into the water, and make them feel part of a beautiful day where they can see for miles. But he won't be up on a ladder with a paintbrush in the 90-degree pool area. The mural is being painted in 64 2-foot squares at the Bloom Collaborative art studio, 138 E. 26th St., by clients of several organizations including patients of the Regional Cancer Center and veterans from the Erie Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Some of the squares are simply a brilliant royal blue. Others contain bright yellow fish. One 8-panel section features a dolphin painted by Bloom Collaborative artist Phyllis Weaver, 60, who often paints animals.
"It's enjoyable because it brings me closer to something I can't be close to," she said. "I wanted the dolphin to be happy and friendly and fun. That's what kind of animal it is anyhow."
She said it took her about a month of class time, and it was a different kind of painting than she's used to. "I usually do more details. It was a good exercise to break out of that. I need to practice being loose more often."
"It's been fun," said Neil Haehn, 20, whose square included a pink fish. "I picked one with a fish because I'm good at drawing. It feels great."
Haehn is looking forward to seeing the whole thing put together. "I think that will be fun."
David McAlonan, 31, painted a square that included two yellow fish.
"I love painting," he said. "It's my passion."
He can't wait for the Barber children to see the mural. He said he works on Barber's landscaping team. "I think they're going to like it. It's going to look nice. I think it's cool so many people are taking part and contributing and what it's going to be used for. A lot of people are going to appreciate it."
Rob Celeski, a welder at GE Transportation for 29 years and chairman of the Employee Community Service Fund of GE, said the fund has helped the Barber aquatics program acquire equipment to help disabled children enjoy the water. He had the same thoughts as McAlonan when he heard the mural idea.
"We liked this project because it reached so many nonprofits in one project alone," Celeski said, declining to disclose the amount of the grant. He said when aquatics director Kaliszak approached him, he visited the pool area. "It's so plain down there," he said. "It needed something fun and positive."
Maureen Barber-Carey, executive vice president of the Barber National Institute, said the GE employees' fund has been generous. "We're really grateful to GE employees fund for making the project possible," she said, adding her aunt, Gertrude Barber, would have loved the mural.
"She was definitely an advocate for the pool," Barber-Carey said, adding that the drop-floor pool was her aunt's idea and is one of few of its like anywhere. "She looked all over the world to find a pool with this kind of floor, and finally found one in Europe, I think in 1980."
Barber-Carey said she expects the mural to be finished and installed this summer, but they haven't told the students yet.
"I think they'll be really excited to see it," she said. "I hope it will create a sense of calmness for them and a whole new experience in the pool area."
Jennie Geisler can be reached at 870-1885 or by email. Follow her on Twitter attwitter.com/ETNgeisler.
If you go
The Barber National Institute Community Pool is open to the public.
It provides amenities for disabled individuals, including a movable floor that rises to the level of the deck and lowers to 4½ feet.
The water and atmosphere is kept at 90 degrees, therapeutic for aches and pains.
Waterproof wheelchairs are available to enter the water and showers.
A variety of equipment and flotation aides offer independence to disabled swimmers.
Classes include an Arthritis Foundation Aquatics Exercise Program and Learn-to-Swim lessons with American Red Cross certified instructors.
For more information, call 878-4071.